Wednesday 31 August 2011

Back to Base - 415 miles and 385 locks in 25 days.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

There's not generally a lot to report when we get to this stage of any long outing.  We are firmly on home territory, and barring the completely unexpected, know it is just a case of completing those familiar last miles and last locks back to our home mooring.

Much improved situation at last night's leaky gates.
Last night the top gates at the Stoke Hammond Three had been closing so poorly that passage through the lock was very difficult, and much water was being lost from the "Jackdaw" pound above.  We hadn't got tools to try and clear any blockage behind the gates, but after we had got the last hire boats, and ourselves through it, had tried a bit of brute force to get the gates closing better.  It appears we had been quite successful, as this morning leakage was at more "normal" levels, (compare last night's picture with today's).

Alan eyes up a possible "support vessel" for Sickle at Grove lock.
I enjoyed a bowl of porridge on the ever-lovely Jackdaw pound.  I used to regularly traverse this pound nearly 40 years ago, when I assisted with the local hire fleet.  We caught another boat at Leighton lock, and worked through with them, but both they and we then pulled over for a supermarket stop.

After that we travelled alone. We met a steady flow of boats travelling in the other direction, but never again saw any sign of anybody travelling the same way as us.

This oddity is apparently rather more than 7 feet wide.
Despite the severe problems with water supplies this summer, most pounds were still in quite good health, if anything generally better than when we had passed the other way.  We did find the short pound between the Ivinghoe locks at least a foot short of water, but this probably has more to do with very leaky gates at the lower Ivinghoe lock, than with the drought conditions.

Grove Church, (or simply "Church")  lock.

Below Slapton lock.
All too quickly we were going through the final three Seabrooke locks, the Seabrooke swing bridge, and were back on our moorings.

A good colour match ?

Between the final locks at Seabrooke.
It has been our longest summer trip to date, both in time and in distance, and although we didn't go where we initially planned to, we have visited a variety of completely new places, including the Caldon and Leek branches of the Trent and Mersey, and the newly re-opened Droitwich Barge canal, and Droitwich Junction canals.  We would give a stong recommendation for all of these, although my "jewel in the crown" personally remains as the particularly delightful Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. We even managed 48 locks in one day, another personal best.  And we found time for two steam railways.

Until next year, then!

Stoke Hammond Three Locks to Cook's Wharf
Miles: 10.2, Locks: 10

Total Miles: 415.0, Total Locks: 385

Tuesday 30 August 2011


(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath)

Classic Stoke Bruerne view
Some weeks back on the trip out I managed to pull a muscle in my shoulder or neck, which I have largely managed to ignore. Alan has massaged it a bit, which has done a lot to keep it within tolerable levels, and I have taken painkillers when it got bad. The most important thing has been to keep active, as it isn't too bad during the day, but gets worse overnight while it is immobile.

I woke up this morning in real agony, barely able to get out of bed. It was the second really bad night in a row, where I had slept very little. I was so tired.

Alan walked Charlie, as although he has been trained to walk to heel, he can be very over enthusiastic, and any pulling on the lead would make the pain worse. After breakfast (and more painkillers) we set off, down the Stoke Bruerne flight, with me steering, and Alan working the locks. 

Earnest discussion about student motivation
Part of the way down we met up with a couple on another boat, the man told me that he teaches piano in independent schools, and we had a very interesting discussion about education today - it left me with some things to think about how I teach some aspects of our courses.

They suggested that we go on ahead after the flight, and we headed off until we got to the big supermarket at Wolverton. All this time the pain in my shoulder, neck and head didn't get any better.

I went shopping, Alan came to help me carry the bags back to the boat. He took one look at me and said, "you can't go on, should we stop?" We decided that I would take some more paracetamol, and go to bed, he would steer around lockless Milton Keynes.

Filling with water at Fenny
Despite the roar of the engine only a yard or so beyond my feet I slept quite well for some time. I woke, still in pain, but much refreshed, just in time to get some coffee made, and help to work through the next lock, Fenny Stratford. After that I took over steering through Stoke Hammond and to the bottom of Soulbury Three Locks.

Despite it being quite late in the day we were passed by a lot of Wyvern hire boats heading north from their base in Leighton Buzzard - surprising numbers for that late in the day.

At Three Locks
At Soulbury we found that there were no moorings left on the piling below the lock, and it was impossible to get Chalice into the muddy side anywhere else. There is more piling, but we had come past it some distance back, and nobody fancied reversing that far. So we opted to go up through the locks. Yet more Wyvern boats were coming down, and others were waiting at the top.

This is an empty lock - all paddles down

We became aware of large amounts of water pouring over some gates towards the top, Alan went up to investigate and found the worst leaking gates he had seen in a long time. They were not properly closed, and there seemed to be something stopping them closing against the cill. David went off to find a 'keb' (big rake with tines at an angle), and found a BW employee, who said he was off duty, and the 'keb' is not a 'keb', it's a 'drag'. Fair enough, I've always known it as a keb - we have one on Sickle, which was not a lot of use at that moment.

Leaky gates
So, without a keb/drag, and with a concerned German hirer looking on, they tried to clear the cill, by closing one gate on it's own, as fast as they could, then the other. They met together much better after that, so we didn't think that we'd wake up to find the pound we were mooring in drained in the morning.

We, and the young German couple, moored just above the lock. I began to cook dinner, David took Charlie off for a walk.

Alan and I had finished our food, and it was dark, we were starting to wonder quite where David and Charlie had got to. David's phone was off, so I set off in the direction they had gone, with a lantern, only to find David returning with pictures of the bats that he had been photographing.

Stoke Bruerne to Stoke Hammond Three Locks
Miles: 22.7, Locks: 12

Total Miles: 405.0, Total Locks: 375

Monday 29 August 2011

Another Bank Holiday Weekend Day - And More Queues.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

We were now very much on one of our standard runs for Chalice's home moorings.  Braunston is an obvious stopover, and typically we will then stop at Blisworth or Stoke Bruerne the next day, with our final on-board night being somewhere like Fenny Stratford or Stoke Hammond.

The second time we have passed "Dorado" on our trip.
To get from Braunston to Stoke Bruerne in a day is relatively easy if there are no hold-ups, but this was a Bank Holiday Monday, and we made a very relaxed start from Braunston.  After the procession of boats past ours before we moved, we were not surprised to find several boats stacked up waiting passage through the bottom lock of the Braunston flight.

Whilst we were waiting we were treated to the sight of some young men on a pair of "Saisons" hire boats using their pole to push forcefully of the wooden cabins of some moored boats, with obvious damage being done.  We looked at their smashed off tunnel light to, and wondered how they would be tackling the tunnel ahead.  Curiously they asked if they would be able to get their boats in the locks together - this seemed a bit odd, as they must have already come through the 13 locks they were about to tackle in the other direction.  For some reason the two boats stopped sharing locks at one point, and we ended up in a lock with them - an arrangement that fortunately didn't last long when a boat ahead saw us coming, and re-opened bottom gates to let us in!

We see some highly skilled hire boaters very regularly on our travels, but occasionally you get a set that are an accident waiting to happen.  This lot were in the latter category.

These fenders struggle to fit anywhere at all.
At Long Buckby we were queing again.  One of the boats in front was sporting the most oversized set of fenders we have yet seen on a narrow boat.  These visibly were starting to jam it in the lock with a second boat as they descended, and we advised both boats it looked dodgy to proceed with these fenders down.  By the next lock they were parked on the roof.

Out of harm's way!
In fact by a few locks we were sharing with this boat, owned by a delightful couple who had literally just bought it, and starting to take it home.  Apparently they also sail, and assumed that similar fenders were sensible on a canal boat.  The husband was very enthusiastic and keen to learn, but his wife was clearly finding lock work very taxing, and didn't want to handle the boat.  They said they only needed to be at Apsley by the end of Friday - I wish them well, but think they may need a lot of assistance to meet that target, knowing just how many locks there are once past Leighton Buzzard.

Blisworth tunnel - nearly out.
By now we were looking at a late a arrival at Stoke Bruerne, and that was before we stopped for fuel at Stowe Hill, and also found a queue there, having to wait whilst two other boats were filled and the paperwork done.  By the time we left, Dominic, the owner, said Stoke Bruerne was an ambitious target before nightfall.  I'm pleased to say we made it easily, greatly helped by a completely clear passage of Blisworth Tunnel.  I have no idea how "about 23 minutes" figures in the tunnel "hall of fame", but given the hot oil smell as we emerged, I don't think I would have liked to have pushed it any faster!

We had vowed that Braunston would be our last meal out, but after arriving as late as we did, Cath said she really didn't fancy cooking, and "the Boat" ended up providing us with some really rather good food.

Braunston to Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 20.6, Locks: 13

Total Miles: 382.3, Total Locks: 363

Sunday 28 August 2011

A Very Busy Day

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

We thought we would rather like to get to Braunston today.  Although we had already been out and celebrated our wedding anniversary early a couple of days ago, we could now do it for real, after the dress rehearsal.

I don't think we were quite prepared for the boating day that followed, and had simply not expected it to be anything like as busy as it turned out.  Two days ago, we had come out of Birmingham to beyond Knowle locks, and literally only passed one moving boat the whole day.  Yesterday was much busier, as we worked down Hatton and through Warwick and Leamington, but I'm not sure we had still woken up to the idea of bank holiday weekend!

"Bottom seriously too close to top" at Bascote.
Our first locks were on our own, and only when we got to the 4 locks at Bascote did things really get going.  We had noticed the occasional slightly low pound up until now, but a distinct lack of water in the short pound below Bascote staircase locks was enough to see the stern of Chalice firmly stuck, whilst the bows drifted aimlessly towards the mudbanks now visible on the right.

Opening move in the "Bascote shuffle"
However, I do think we got through Bascote with far less delays than would have been the case therafter.  We were already setting up the staircase lock to go in at the bottom, when two boats arrived at the top to come down.  "No problem!", we said, "we can do the Bascote shuffle".  The owner boaters on one boat had been unaware it was possible to pass boats within the staircase, whilst the hirers on the second boat just looked totally bemused through what followed.

I'll not go into detail - as there are actually less effort ways of doing it than what those coming down went for, but basically two boats come down the top lock, with the water used to fill the lock Chalice was in coming up.  Once equalised, and the gates are open, you shuffle boats Tetris style until each have changed chamber, then go on your way as normal.

Even amongst weird boats, this one is VERY weird!
We didn't stop around though to find how two boats coming out into the very low pound actually managed to pass the two already coming up from the lock below.  I think it might have been "challenging".  Meanwhile boats were arriving in droves to go down, and a distinctly large queue was forming - out of that one just in time, I think!

Line up of ex working boats at Warwickshire Fly Boat Company.

The Blue Lias.

Sharing at Stockton - another experienced crew eases the work!
We eventually ended up sharing most of the remaining ascent of locks through Stockton with an experienced crew.  With our bike out to lock-wheel ahead, progress was as good as the boats ahead allowed us.

Stockton Locks come thick and fast.

Queuing at Calcutt Bottom Lock
However, at Calcutt locks, (the last 3 locks on the Birmingham main line of the Grand union, heading this way), we hit another queue.  The situation here was further complicated by boats wishing to leave the marina at Calcutt, and work up these locks.  They emerge well beyond the back of the queue.  At first it looked like some queue jumping might occur, but in the end it was all very civilised and British.  We stood around exchanging stories, and comparing dogs, whilst everybody was very careful to go on exactly their turn!

It has to be said the waiting here was unnecessarily long.  Is it beyond the wit of crews going uphill to leave open the gates of the lock they are leaving, to allow a clean exchange with boats nearly ready to leave the lock above coming down ?  It sometimes surprises me that people who clearly own their own boat still have little concept of how to get people through with the least delay at the busiest times.

Braunston Church
Anyway, no real problem.  Braunston was still a realistic target, despite the delays of the day.  The delays were not quite over, though, as a slow boat preceded a line of people behind him who might have preferred to go a bit faster, and did so all the way until nearly Braunston.

Festivities at "Braunston Village Weekend".
Braunston was packed out, with boats moored on every available slot we passed, including out onto the Puddle Banks.  But just as we were about to pass the customer mooring at the Mill House pub, I spotted someone might be leaving.  Yes they were, so we moored up straight outside the pub - we were not going to have to walk far to get to our Wedding anniversary meal, after all!

Above Fosse Locks to Braunston
Miles: 12.5, Locks: 19

Total Miles: 361.7, Total Locks: 350

Saturday 27 August 2011

Hatton - and on past Radford Semele

After the first four lock

(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath)

We left our mooring by the Black Boy at about 9 am, and startedthe run to Hatton.  Once again the weather has been changeable, sunny one moment, and a drenching downpour the next - you either spend all your time changing in  and out of waterproofs, or just decide to keep warm by working the locks energetically.

The first boat we were working with pulled over after a few locks, but we soon caught up with a keen and experienced crew of hire boaters. The flight was busy, but we made fair time.

I'd love this to go with Sickle!

I wouldn't say no to this either!
Outside the BW yard at Hatton
I was drenched when I took this, the weather was so changeable

Hanging gardens - orange balsam and other plants
Bushes heavy with autumn fruit
 This summer is reported as being the driest since 1976, which has meant restrictions on boat movements on some parts of the system, but also an early autumn.
 The hire crew pulled over at the nearest pub below Hatton, while we pushed on to the Tesco's in Warwick, and then up through Fosse Locks. David went for a walk in the evening, and got very wet, but also took some photos:
Rainbow bridge
Evening sky from the top of Bascote Staircase

Knowle to above Fosse Locks
Miles: 17.2, Locks: 27

Total Miles: 349.2, Total Locks: 331

Friday 26 August 2011

It's Raining Again

(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath)

We woke up at the usual time, to find that Lincoln had already gone, as had Jan and Dave who had promised to help John and Mary go down the Farmer's Bridge flight of 13.

Passing through Gas Street Basin towards Broad Street tunnel
A quick breakfast and we headed through Gas Street up to the turn off by the NIA. I had sent Jan a text, as they had promised to give us a hand too. Jan met us at the top of the flight at just gone 9 o'clock, Dave was already off setting locks ahead.

It was raining intermittently as we worked down the locks, but with four of us on the task I barely noticed the work.

lock under the buildings in Farmer's Bridge

The Farmer's Bridge flight passes old abandoned factories, modern apartments, under office blocks, and by the base of the Telecom Tower - there is a somewhat surreal feel to it

The locks are so close together that they have the pounds between them extended alongside the locks.

By ten fifteen we were leaving the bottom lock, Jan and Dave had done 26 locks  - they promised to take it easy for the rest of the day.

Raining - looking from Ashtead top lock into Ashtead tunnel
At this point the rain really started, so that going towards the Ashtead locks we were in a downpour.

Ashtead tunnel is immediately below the top lock, with another lock not far below the end of it. It is an extremely narrow tunnel, so it is important to make sure that no one is in the tunnel before you go into the lock - and vice versa in the other direction.

We carried on through the rest of the Ashtead Locks, then up the Camp Hill flight, then miles of suburb until we got to Knowle - the first wide locks for what seemed like weeks. They have very wide pounds between the locks.  We carried on a bit further, then tied up outside the Black Boy, where we decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary a couple of days early, and went to the pub for a meal.

More photos below:

under Broad Street Tunnel - towards the NIA

On the way down Farmer's Bridge

working hard - Cath and Jan

Some of the locks feel almost subterranean

Telecom tower - looking back up the flight

Jan and Dave close the last lock of the day

bottom gate of Ashtead Top Lock, from the tunnel

inside Ashtead Tunnel - trying to hang onto some paintwork

Birmingham to Knowle
Miles: 15.3, Locks: 30

Total Miles: 332.0, Total Locks: 304